Simon Hughes: why the Lib Dems will not stand against David Davis

This is the text of the email just sent by Lib Dem president Simon Hughes explaining the party’s decision not to contest the forthcoming Haltemprice & Howden by-election triggered by David Davis’s shock resignation:

Dear friend,

You may have heard the news that David Davis, Conservative MP for Haltemprice & Howden, has announced that he will resign his seat on Monday and fight a by-election to return to Parliament. He will fight specifically on the basis of his opposition to the 42 day detention proposal which the Government gained a 9 vote majority for in the Commons last night. Late last night David Davis told Nick Clegg of his intention.

This morning, Nick Clegg and I spoke and formed a common view that, in these exceptional circumstances, it would be best not to put up a candidate in this by-election. I then consulted with the local and regional party chairs, explained the position and obtained their agreement to this course of action, which the Chair of the English Party also understands and supports.

Haltemprice & Howden is of course an important seat for us in a strong and important region. We fought the last General Election very hard and we will fight the next General Election equally hard in this seat. But just as in Tatton in the recent past I believe there are times when we can justifiably stand aside on a one-off basis.

David Davis has said publicly that he will stand on a platform of opposition to 42 day detention. This is exactly the position we have unanimously taken. If David Davis is reelected it will not change the balance in Parliament between those who support the government on this issue and those who oppose. Last night every Liberal Democrat voted against the Government both on the 42 day issue and at 3rd reading of the Bill. We shall seek to defeat the Government in the House of Lords on this issue and therefore get rid of this policy before the Bill becomes law.

In the meantime, with many others I shall go on fighting in the campaign to win Henley from the Conservatives on the 26th June. The Henley by-election is and must be the immediate campaigning priority for the party nationally – where we can oppose the Conservatives on so many policies and on the many gaps in policy which they also have. We are also working to make a big dent in the Labour vote.

These decisions are never easy, not least for local party members and supporters who want to take every opportunity to remove Conservatives from the House of Commons and replace them with Liberal Democrats.
I share absolutely this objective.

But I hope you will understand that, very rarely, exceptional decisions are the right ones. The battle to challenge the Labour Government’s regular authoritarian tendencies means that a decision not to split the anti 42 day vote on this occasion is, I believe, the right judgement in difficult and unexpected circumstances.

With thanks and very best wishes,

Simon Hughes

President of the Liberal Democrat

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47 Comments

  • If David Davis had pledged to stand as an Independent Conservative and not to take the Tory whip if elected – I could understand this position a little more.

    This is a parliamentary election. This decision should only have been made locally.

    The voters in Haltemprice & Howden have a lot on their minds right now of which ’42 days’ is only one issue. Given an opportunity to elect a representative MP – they should have a choice which included a Lib Dem to fight for their wider concerns.

    We will be the big loser here!

  • “This morning, Nick Clegg and I spoke and formed a common view that, in these exceptional circumstances, it would be best not to put up a candidate in this by-election. I then consulted with the local and regional party chairs, explained the position and obtained their agreement to this course of action …”

    I really don’t think it should have been done that way round.

    If the seat is really deemed to be unwinnable in the circumstances, it’s better if we don’t stand. But the final decision should be the local party’s.

  • What a load of tosh.

    I’m still waiting for an explanation Simon. What exceptional circumstances?

    Had the Lib Dems stood and won it would not have changed the balance in the commons

    as it is, it leaves the way open for the greens and BNP to come secoind in this seat.

    Lib Dem voters can’t be switched on an off at whim. This is another serious blunder from the people who brought us a three line whip to abstain on the Lisbon treaty.

    What is more, the website says the party and local party was consulted – yet this email shaow that to be at best misleding, at worst a lie.

    I am close to resigning from the party if the leadership is going to keep passing up opportunities and handing them to our opponents.

  • I hope an Independent Liberal Democrat stands.

    Let’s get the power pulled back from the smoke free rooms of Westminster back to local democracy.

    This is an abuse of democracy in more ways than one. Give the people a real choice.

  • Shame on you

    DD strongly in favour of the death penalty

    DD strongly against Gay rights and section 28.

    DD strongly in favour of the Iraq war

    Some principled Liberal he is

    Shame on your new bed fellow shame

  • Bishop Hill – it’s too late for that.

    Had he sought a common platform with similarly principled objectors to the attack on civil liberties (he’d find many across the board) prior to his announcement then his claim to be making a principled stand would have some validity.

    To seek support after his announcement would be resisted by the party system for being divisive, while individuals who followed him automatically lose their popular appeal because they would be jumping on his bandwagon and lose their independence by becoming subordinate to his leadership, which none would willingly accept without a long courtship.

  • simon wilson 12th Jun '08 - 8:17pm

    Civil Liberty issues are Liberal Democrat issues. DD is no liberal-why give him our space?

  • “We will be backing a candidate with whom we have virtually nothing in common.”

    Well, whatever the arguments about whether or not we should have stood a candidate against him, I sincerely hope we won’t be _backing_ him – or even voting for him, for that matter.

  • Duncan Hames 12th Jun '08 - 8:34pm

    A fellow school governor stopped me tonight to tell me how impressed she was with my party deciding not to stand against David Davis in this by-election.
    For what it’s worth, I think it was the right decision in the circumstances too.
    I look forward to continuing this discussion with many of you back in Henley very soon.
    Duncan

  • Mark,

    You know the email says that basically Simon Hughes and Nick Clegg took the decision and as Jack Straw said about Tony Blair, you read about a decision in the papers and then make the the reasons up later.

    Spin it as firm leadership if you wish but it’s not even slightly convincing to say the party was properly consulted – why the rush?

    Tony Benn standing to win the right to renounce his peerage was an exceptinal circumstance. Some tory on a ego trip, however well intentioned is not.

    presumably Davis will have the same view at the general election so why are we saying we will opose him them? Neither he nor the Lib dems have the right to tell voters what a by-election will be about.
    That is the old politics.

    If the Lib Dems wanted to maximise the number of people voting against 42 day detention without trial then they should have stood a candidate.

  • >A fellow school governor stopped me >tonight to tell me how impressed she was >with my party deciding not to stand >against David Davis in this by-election.

    probably a tory then 🙂

    Sounds a bit like the feedback from a naff focus – 3 people loved it, 3000 ignored it

  • I despair of my party 12th Jun '08 - 9:04pm

    Not because of the decision to stand aside, that is just astute politics.

    I despair of all you people who just can’t see the woods for the trees.

    This by-election isn’t about democracy or civil liberties or anything like that.

    Its a stunt – a political stunt – designed to aggrandise Davis – and it will be a popular stunt, the press will love it, the people will love it.

    What do we gain fighting it? We agree with Davis on the issue and we won’t win.

    I feel sorry for Jon Neal – but hey – thems the political brakes.

    Now all you people – stop whining and get down to Henley – Where we have a chanceof a win and give Cameron a bloody nose to match the shiner he’s just got from Davis.

  • Given the groundswell of support Davies is generating, I think it’d be mad to run against him. Waste of time, waste of money.

    Nick Clegg should be aiming to top this with a Labour MP defection. That’ll bring this ghastly government to its knees.

  • SEVENTEEN occasions Mark. SEVENTEEN.

  • Unusually I think this is the right decision – smart politics – Tories in turmoil all of a sudden – Clegg has put them in a fix – Labourt don’t know what to do.

    Let’s concentrate on Henley that would give us a real boost.

  • Brassed off of Leeds 12th Jun '08 - 9:42pm

    The only winners out of us not standing against David Davis in this stunt of a by-election will be David Davis himself, and whichever candidate from some rag tag and bobtail ‘party’ comes second. All the hard work by Lib Dems over previous years and elections in the constituency will be wiped out.

    David Davis might agree with us over 42 days but he isn’t a Lib Dem and he won’t be taking the Lib Dem whip if re-elected and there is much he disagrees with us about.

    Our party leadership should leave shoddy, shady backroom deals to Labour and the DUP.

    I recently received my membership renewal asking me to pay £54.00. Until today I was going to renew at that amount. Now it will be the £10.00 minimum.

    I am disappointed and disgusted by our Party’s leadership. We should be opposing right wing Tories (and others) and backing Lib Dems. That’s what our Party is supposed to exist for.

  • @Anonymous: actually, Mark’s right, it *is* three occasions. One of which involved fifteen people. Despite lazy media types’ efforts, ‘occasion’ isn’t quite yet a synonym of ‘thing’.

  • Some of the likely beneficiaries of this gross misjudgment have been listed – the Green Party, the BNP. Another is Councillor Steve Radford and his one-man band network.

    What happens if one of Radford’s people stands and gets the Lib Dem vote? How is that going to make us look?

    Those with relatively long memories will recall that one of the reasons we fought Eastbourne was to stop what was then known as the “Meadowcroftites” stepping in and claiming to be the true Liberal Party. I should know – the first time I went down there to help I walked into their HQ by mistake!

  • David Morton 12th Jun '08 - 10:07pm

    This is the worst decision that a party leader has made in my 17 years of membership. Its 100% clear from todays media coverage that Davis is standing as an Official Conservative candidate and will take the Conservative whip if relected. On that basis I make the following points.

    1. Davis is not a liberal or Liberal. A quick look at his record shows he has,well, Tory, views on most issues. How in the name of God can we endorse him in this way ?

    2. Does anyone think a 4 week by election campaign will really be just about 42 days ? The electorate and media will not allow it. People will quite rightly want to know his views on every local and national issue. We will have no candidate to put our case.

    3. This validates the whole “liberal Conservativism” narritive that Cameron has been pushing and we have been trying to discredit.

    4. This is likely to be an incredibly effective PR stunt by a Conservative politican under the Conservative banner

    I see a real danger that davis ( a career politican) becommes a “Mr Smith” figure and tapps into the current anti politics mood. A pool we were fishing in.

    5. we have justed handed Civil liberties as an issue to the Conservatives lock , stock and barrell.

    6. If we are confident about Henley as some people say they are why have we just given the Tories a free pass on an infinately easier seat to win?

    7. H and H is precisely the kind of seat we would have a shot at under the next conservative government. What does this by election achieve other than 4 weeks of unchallenged tory literature and a “winchester” style majority of the tories.

    8. some one will stand. what happens when we give a second place to the Green or BNP ?

  • Most of those points still apply if we put up a candidate and then lose badly.

  • What a stupid position for our party to take

  • You can also lose a lot by losing. Do you think that the Labour government will be hurt by us shoving flyers with ‘Davis is a bad man’ through letterboxes? We’d just be strengthening every aspect of the Davis brand and making ourselves look like a bunch of by-election junkies.

  • Richard Church 12th Jun '08 - 11:01pm

    I can imagine now all the negative comments we would be getting if Nick had announced today that we were standing in this by-election. ‘How pointless’, ‘how opportunist’, ‘why are we standing aginst him if we agree with him on the issue he has called by by-election on’ etc. etc.

    By not standing in response to this curious, egocentric decision, the spotlight is turned on the turmoil in the Tory party. Having their best known name do this without the agreement of his party leader is truly wierd.

    If we had stood, the Tories would have rallied round to see us off. Now their internal problems will unwind with the attention of a grateful media. We will have nothing to lose.

  • Spot on David M.

    In terms of historical precedent, when have we stood aside in favour of an official Conservative Party candidate (not an independent)?

  • In what ways does this decision benefit the causes we stand for?

    By agreeing not to stand against David Davis, we are indulging a Tory in spending taxpayers money on a pointless exercise. It will achieve nothing on 42 days or anything else we stand for as Liberal Democrats.

    David Davis has chosen to trigger a byelection so we should use the opportunity to offer the voters of Haltemprice and Howden a better representative.

    This is one of the worse decisions I can remember from a Liberal Democrat leader and I can only see us losing out from it.

    James

  • David Morton,

    I recommend you look at tomorrow’s papers before deciding that this will be a win for Cameron or the Conservatives as a whole. I think Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems will come out of it a lot better than David Cameron.

    It may be a stunt from Davis but there seems little doubt it is a principled stunt, and one his leader disagrees with. It seems pretty clear that behind this there is a pretty substantial Tory split on whether they should make a strong stand against 42 days detention without trial. A split on which Davis, for all his faults, is on the side of the angels.

    And in answer to your qustion two, yes, I really do think this by-election will be pretty much entirely about 42 days. This is not going to be a typical by-election.

    People I’ve spoken to today, most of them not party members, overwhelmingly think we’ve done the right thing. Quite a few of them are bemused at Cameron’s lack of support for Davis.

    George

  • It has been told that Davis told about his intentions to Clegg before he told his Tory colleagues. I wonder whether Davis would still have resigned if Clegg had answered that Lib Dems will field a candidate against him? Just a thought, maybe he would.

  • So much has been written about this, but can anyone explain what the constitutional position is?

    Does the party leader have the constitutional right to decide that the party will not field a candidate in a parliamentary by election?

  • Incredible – what the argument for not standing boils down to is the party has no money, won’t win and agrees with a particular candidate on a single policy position.

    Is the party going to apply the same logic to all by-elections?

  • john in penarth 13th Jun '08 - 6:28pm

    For the Liberals it’s not just about winning, it’s about being seen, heard and contributing to national debate and influencing it. Just imagine what our country’s politics would be like were the BNP or UKIP the third party!

    whilst I believe that many Tories are instinctive liberals, they’re not LDs and, in this case, David Davies isn’t liberal either. It happens that his ideas stemming, it seems, from reverence for tradition happen to collide with our views on this one issue. It makes no sense not to fight this by-election and if, due a tabloid frenzy and on the basis of a low turn-out we DO get Kelvin McKenzie MP then we’ll have no business complaining about it.

  • Peter Chapman 13th Jun '08 - 7:29pm

    It is ridiculous that we are not standing.I keep trying to defend Clegg but he’s so wet!! Good job we didnt take the same attitude at the Eastbourne by- election.There we were right to express our sysmpathy at the death of the MP and then stand.We should have expressed our sympathy to the Tories that Davis is a petulant egotist and stood (If anyone is conned that he is a liberal Look at his record (clause 28 etc) .I feel sorry for the local Lib Dems who should be providing the the voters with somebody who understands their local concerns even if we dont win,Lets hope an Independant Local Liberal democrat stands and shows that those in Westminster are totally out of touch with the footsoldiers

  • “Does the party leader have the constitutional right to decide that the party will not field a candidate in a parliamentary by election?”

    Surely someone knows the answer to this question?

  • Hywel Morgan 13th Jun '08 - 8:59pm

    “Does the party leader have the constitutional right to decide that the party will not field a candidate in a parliamentary by election?”

    The constitution on a quick read seems pretty silent on this – there doesn’t seem to be a comparable provision to the duty on local parties to contest all local authority elections

  • Thanks.

    If the constitution is silent on it, that must mean that the leader _doesn’t_ have the power to forbid the local party from nominating a candidate.

  • However, it seems that the local party contents to his decision.

    What does the constitution say about the nomination in general? Who has the final word? Can the national or the regional party override a local party? At least in constituencies without an active local party I’d think the national or the regional party makes the decision?

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